Ahead of the curve

How pre-primary gives kids an edge

Jacqueline Labrador
UNICEF Laos/2019/Labrador

06 February 2019

“What is the answer to six plus seven?” Ms. Khamanivong asks her grade one class. Titavanh enthusiastically jumps from her desk and runs to the front of the room to answer the question. She picks up a piece of chalk and confidently writes the answer on the blackboard. Math is her favorite subject in school, and she loves solving operational problems. Titavanh is at the top of her class at Phonkeo Primary School in Saravane province, southern Laos.

Ms. Khamanivong continues with the next activity to keep the class engaged and continuously learning. She has the class working together in small groups to solve a series of math problems. They all discuss them and use their fingers to come up with the solution and check their answers. Titavanh takes the lead in her group math activity and confidently writes her team’s answers on the board. Once all four groups have finished, Ms. Khamanivong goes through the answers on the board. Titavanh’s group is the only one to get all the correct answers.

UNICEF Laos/2019/Labrador
Titavanh is at the top of her class in all subjects, especially math

Titavanh along with most of her classmates attended a UNICEF supported pre-primary education programme. Ms. Khamanivong who has been teaching for over 20 years notices that children who participate in pre-primary education are ready for the grade one curriculum and learn much faster than their peers who do not attend. “Children who attend pre-primary are much easier to teach,” she says, “children who do not attend pre-primary need extra attention to catch-up, for things like holding a pencil and comprehension.”

The pre-primary programme has been developed by the Ministry of Education and Sports with support from UNICEF to advance the holistic development of a child and get them ready for school, especially in areas where there are no kindergartens or places without the provisions to build kindergartens. UNICEF provides this support to the government through assistance with teacher training, supply provision and continuous monitoring and mentoring support to pre-primary schools. The curriculum, developed for learning and character development, focuses on physical development, hygiene and safety, language, cognitive and general knowledge, emotional and social behaviors.

Focus and attention to pre-primary education following the national curriculum and competency standards for five-year-old children support their ongoing development in primary learning and beyond. There are immediate positive effects on multi-dimensional child development, such as language, cognitive, physical and socio-emotional skills that can create positive impact on a child’s early school experience. Expanding quality Early Childhood Education in Lao PDR, particularly in rural and marginalised groups, and helping their smooth transition and continuous learning in primary and higher education level, will hence not only improve children’s performance in school and the financial efficiency in the sector, but will also provide long-term benefits to children, communities and society at large.

According to the Multiple Overlapping Deprivation Analysis (MODA) most children in Laos are deprived from ECE with Saravane showing the highest numbers of deprivation in children under 5 in the country. In this province, 96 per cent of children are deprived of learning materials in the home, putting their development behind in literacy numeracy, also the highest number of deprivation in children under 5 in the country.

With so many children deprived in early childhood development, pre-primary education plays an essential role in building children’s critical skills and in fostering normal development.

UNICEF Laos/2019
Titavanh’s group is the only one to get all the correct answers at Phonkeo Primary School in Saravane province, southern Laos.

Ms. Khamanivong says Titavanh is excelling across all subjects. She not only does extra class work but also helps in the classroom. The bell rings, and Ms. Khamanivong dismisses the class. They all run outside ready to go home for the day. Titavanh’s mother Phaivonh meets her by the gate and takes her home on the motorbike.

UNICEF Laos/2019/Labrador
Titavanh and her mother heading home after school

Phaivonh noticed a significant change in her daughter as she was attending her pre-primary classes. “Titavanh learned to read, write, sing and draw.” Phaivonh says, “These were activities she had never done before. She was always enthusiastic and liked learning, but pre-primary really helped her excel.” After school and a few chores around the house, she helps Titavanh with her homework. Phaivonh is a nurse and wants to support her daughter’s dreams and to help her do whatever she wants in the future. When Titavanh is asked if she wants to be a nurse like her mother she shakes her head and grins. “I want to be a teacher when I grow up.” says Titavanh, “I like helping other kids. But I love my mom this much!” she stretches out her arms as far as they can go then wraps them around her mom to give her a big hug.

UNICEF Laos/2019/Labrador
Titavanh kissing her mother Ms. Phaivonh